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Flappers Didn’t Really Wear Fringed Dresses

The latest movie version of The Great Gatsby came out, fashion historians set us straight about flapper fashions: they did not show off one's curves the way the movie costumes did. It turns out that the most iconic signifier of a flapper costume is also false: the fringe. It wasn't common at all in the Roaring Twenties. They didn't have the lightweight, synthetic fabrics that gave us fringe that swirled when dancing. So why do we always think of fringe when we think of flapper fashion? It was the movies.

“Hollywood began mining the 1920s in the 1950s, and order to make it work, they adapted the costuming of the period to look more like what people were actually wearing in the ’50s,” explains Jeanine Basinger, a film historian and the chair of Wesleyan University’s film department. The period setting, Basinger says, was less about what the ’20s were and more about what they weren’t: post-WWII. “The war was a shadow over film at the time, and to take the ’20s as a setting lifted that burden off.”

Read how movies such as Singin' in the Rain and other musicals changed our perception of fashion history at Racked.

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